Asylum seekers working as volunteers at West-Flanders vaccination centre

Asylum seekers working as volunteers at West-Flanders vaccination centre
Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration Sammy Mahdi has been opening more reception centres in Brussels in recent weeks. Credit: Belga

Twelve asylum seekers are helping a vaccination centre in Ieper, in West Flanders, which was struggling to find staff during working hours, by volunteering at the centre.

The residents of the nearby asylum centre of Poelkapelle are already working at the centre, and the intention is to employ at least sixteen asylum seekers starting from the summer holidays.

"I visited the vaccination centre in Ieper. Asylum seekers are working there every day, from the parking lot to the vaccination cubicles, for our safety," State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Sammy Mahdi said on Twitter.

According to the director of vaccination centre, the necessary work at the centre cannot be done "without the commitment of these volunteers, as finding volunteers during working hours is not easy."

"Our residents participate like all other volunteers. Employment is also part of their integration. Here, the residents learn work ethics and can practice their Dutch," Sofie Desseyn, director of the Poelkapelle asylum centre, said.

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Mahdi is looking to extend the initiative, which could pair under-staffed vaccination centres with refugees who are awaiting a decision on whether they can stay in Belgium or not, to other centres.

In April, a survey conducted by Fedasil at the request of Mahdi found around 200 asylum seekers could be eligible to work in the healthcare sector in Belgium based on their degrees or relevant experience.

"It would be useful to be able to call on those people now as well. These people have a profile for working in healthcare and we should be able to put them to work,” Mahdi’s spokesperson told The Brussels Times.

Mahdi said that, even after the coronavirus crisis, "we need to make sure that those people are put to work and make a contribution. Last year, we did that with seasonal work. This year, we need to increase the number of asylum seekers who can be put to work."

During Mahdi's visit to the vaccination centre in Ieper, one of the asylum seekers told him that they have already received a lot from Belgium and that they now want to give something back.

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